(director: Michael Curtiz; screenwriters: based on a poem by Alfred Lord Tennyson/based on a story by Michel Jacoby;Michel Jacoby/Rowland Leigh; cinematographer: Sol Polito; editor: George Amy; music: Max Steiner; cast: Errol Flynn (Major Geoffrey Vickers), Olivia de Havilland (Elsa Campbell), Patric Knowles (Captain Perry Vickers), Henry Stephenson (Sir Charles Macefield), Nigel Bruce (Sir Benjamin Warrenton), Donald Crisp (Colonel Campbell), David Niven (Captain Randall), C. Henry Gordon (Surat Khan), G. P. Huntley Jr. (Major Jowett), Robert Barrat (Count Igor Volonoff), Spring Byington (Lady Octavia Warrenton), E.E. Clive (Sir Humphrey Harcourt); Runtime: 116; MPAA Rating: NR; producer: Hal B. Wallis; Warner Bros. Pictures; 1936)

“It climaxes in a rousing battle scene of the famous Light Brigade charge.”

Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz

Michael Curtiz (“Captain Blood”) helms this black-and-white sweeping historical epic that’s based on Alfred Lord Tennyson’s heroic poem. It tells about the Light Brigade and their foolhardy doomed charge of 600 soldiers during the Crimean War (England and Turkey vs. Russia from 1854-56). Its history is fictionalized and much of it is inaccurate (but that goes with the territory when you make a Hollywood film); the immensity of the British military blunder in the Crimea is glossed over. It tells of the fierce action on the north-west frontier of India and of a romantic tale of the brothers Major Geoffrey Vickers (Errol Flynn) and Captain Perry Vickers (Patric Knowles) in love with the same honey, the pretty Elsa Campbell (Olivia de Havilland) who is the daughter of Colonel Campbell (Donald Crisp). It climaxes in a rousing battle scene of the famous Light Brigade charge, which is done so effectively it makes up for most of the film’s ordinariness. It’s the film where Flynn rose to super-stardom.

Surat Khan (C. Henry Gordon) is the Rajah on the north-west frontier, who learns from Sir Humphrey Harcourt (E.E. Clive), an English diplomat, and four accompanying members of the 27th Bengal Lancers, including the soon to be promoted Captain Geoffrey Vickers, that England will no longer fund his rule. The Rajah secretly goes over to the Russian side. On a leopard hunt, Geoffrey earns the Rajah’s eternal gratitude by saving his life. Afterwards Geoffrey returns to Calcutta, where his fiancĂ©e Elsa Campbell resides with her colonel father; in his absence she has fallen in love with his brother, Captain Perry Vickers. This causes a sibling feud. Before the brothers can settle things, Geoffrey is ordered to the Tartar, where he’s to buy Tartar cavalry horses and herd them to Batum on the Black Sea. Then he joins Colonel Campbell in Chukoti, while Perry is in a nearby outpost in Lohara under the command of Benjamin Warrenton (Nigel Bruce). Unaware that the wicked Rajah is building forces at the border, Warrenton foolishly orders the garrison at Chukoti to go on maneuvers to Lohara as a show of force. Colonel Campbell refuses to heed Geoffrey’s warning about the possibility of an attack on the now undermanned outpost. When Chukoti is left vulnerable, the Rajah attacks slaughtering all the women, children and Colonel Campbell; but Elsa and Geoffrey escape (the Rajah spares his life to pay back his eternal debt as promised). While alone Elsa finally convinces Geoffrey that she loves his brother, and he gallantly protects Perry by ordering him away from the upcoming battle. Sir Charles Macefield (Henry Stephenson), the supreme commander of the British forces in the Crimea, sends orders through Geoffrey to Warrenton not to attack the Rajah. Geoffrey is bent on avenging the massacre and changes the orders. He then leads the suicide charge against the Rajah’s stronghold (where he’s aided by Russian artillery) near Balaclava. In the battle, the Rajah fatally shoots Geoffrey, who nevertheless impales the Raj with his lance. In the end, Macefield burns Geoffrey’s letter in which he admits changing the orders, and takes full responsibility for the ill-fated charge.